Component name: Video / Graphics Card / Adapter

What it does: The video card processes graphics and sends images to your monitor. It is responsible for how fast how much data can be displayed on your screen.

What you need to know before you buy: The more memory the video card has and the faster it operates, the better image you’ll see on your monitor. Find out how much video memory (this is different than the memory mentioned above) the card has. The more, the better, especially if you plan to do graphics-intensive work such as CAD or photo editing.

In regular 2D mode will display your normal programs like email, web browsing, word processing, etc. Here it is important what resolution the card can offer, especially if you have a big monitor. It should at least offer 1280×1024. It is also important that the card offers a decent refresh rate of at least 75Hz, meaning it can redraw the screen fast enough that you do not see any flicker. Find out whether the card can do at least 1280×1024 @ 75Hz. Anything higher is good, but do not go for less.

In 3D gaming mode is where video card performance is really important, e.g. for games like Quake, Unreal Tournament or Half-life. It has to be powerful enough to render enough frames per second to ensure smooth images. A high-performance gaming graphics card is essential.

If you have additional requirements like video capturing or connecting a LCD monitor, make sure you get a video card that has all the correct in- and outputs.

Very important: Find out whether the graphics card is a true expansion card, or whether it’s integrated into the motherboard. If it’s a true expansion card, chances are it’s a better quality/performance card. If it’s integrated, it’ll be cheap and while ok for 2D mode, underpowered for most games. In addition, if it is integrated, you’ll have to replace the entire motherboard should it ever break.

Component name: Hard Drive

What it does: The hard drive stores the operating system files, programs, and data.

What you need to know before you buy: Hard drive storage space is pretty cheap these days. Get plenty, especially if you plan to store a lot of multimedia files such as pictures, audio, or video files. Disk space is measured in Gigabytes aka GB. Find out how many Gigs the hard drive holds, as well as the specs of the hard drive. The drive should have at least a 2MB buffer, and the platter should spin at 7200 revolutions per minute (RPM). Drives with less than 2MB buffer that spin only at 5400 RPM are slow and outdated.

Component name: CD/DVD Drives

What it does: CD and DVD drives read data, audio, and video from CDs and DVDs, allowing you to install programs, transfer data, play back music and movies.

What you need to know before you buy: Find out what type of drive(s) are in the computer. CD-ROM means CD Read Only, DVD-ROM means DVD Read Only. A CD-ROM drive will play back only CDs. A DVD-ROM drive will play back CDs and DVDs. If you want to be able to write/burn CDs or even DVDs, see if the computer includes a CD or DVD burner, they are not necessarily standard equipment.

Component name: Sound card aka Audio

What it does: The sound card processes audio signals and feeds the speakers.

What you need to know before you buy: If you don’t have any special requirements and plan to hook up only a pair of cheap speakers, you probably don’t care much about this option. However, if you plan to hook up a 4.1 or 5.1 speaker system, expect great sound from games, watch movies on the computer, make sure you get a good quality card that has the proper outputs for a surround sound speaker setup.

Find out whether the sound card is a true expansion card, or whether it’s integrated into the motherboard. If it’s a true expansion card, chances are it’s a better quality card. If it’s integrated, it’ll be a budget level card and not as feature-rich. In addition, if it is integrated, you’ll have to replace the entire motherboard should it ever break.

Component name: Network card aka Ethernet Adapter

What it does: A network card allows you to connect the computer to a home network. It is also needed to hook up a DSL or cable modem with an Ethernet port (Ethernet ports are most common, though there are DSL and cable modems with USB connectors). Having a built-in network card saves you the trouble of installing a new card yourself or moving your network card from your old into the new computer.

What you need to know before you buy: Find out whether the network card is a true expansion card, or whether it’s integrated into the motherboard. If it’s a true expansion card, chances are it’s a better quality card. If it’s integrated, it’ll be a budget level card. In addition, if it is integrated, you’ll have to replace the entire motherboard should it ever break.

 

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